The Minnesota Vikings are entering the final quarter of the 2018 season and while they are in the thick of the playoff hunt, the final four games will also have implications on the 2019 season and beyond.
There are a number of players whose futures are up in the air and while the story is three-quarters written on their seasons, the final stretch will leave a lasting impression that could influence offseason decisions.
For a variety of reasons, here are the five players who we will be watching closely down the stretch…
2019 contract status: Free agent
The Vikings’ 2014 first-round pick is currently playing on his fifth-year option, which is worth $12.3 million on the cap. He was the only former draft pick left unsigned to a long-term deal this offseason when the Vikings wrapped up Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks to contract extensions.
While the Vikings have said they want to sign Barr to a new deal, they also have to balance the salary cap and determine whether a linebacker in today’s game is worth his type of price tag.
So far this year, Barr has been consistently solid aside from one bad night in Los Angeles, which was likely caused more by scheme issues than his play. Outside of the Rams debacle, Barr has allowed just eight catches into his coverage for 41 yards, per Pro Football Focus. He is one of the least targeted linebackers in the NFL and has had success when asked to rush the passer with 13 QB pressures on 65 rushes.
Head coach Mike Zimmer has also said that Barr’s intelligence allows him to dial up a number of different looks without any concern over whether his linebacker will be able to handle them.
The Vikings should know what they have already in Barr, but if they are on the fence about spending top dollar or franchise tagging him, a dominant final four games could seal the deal.
However, over the last two years, Barr has leaned much more toward solid and predictable than dominant. After scoring an 89.6 PFF grade in 2015, he’s produced scores of 50.5, 64.7 and 67.7, putting him in the middle of the pack among LBs. PFF gives him high marks on pass rushing and tackling, but it’s become clear he will never be a pass-rush specialist under Zimmer.
Defensive tackle, Sheldon Richardson
2019 contract status: Free agent
There’s no other way to put it: Sheldon Richardson has been fantastic as a Viking. He ranks in the top 10 in QB pressures among interior defensive linemen and has been sound against the run. At one time there would have been concerns about his off-field activity and consistent efforts, but there have been no sign of those problems since he left the New York Jets.
It makes sense that the Vikings would want to keep a key cog in their dominant defensive line in place. The price tag is another story. Richardson may seek upwards of $15 million per year to match other highly-regarded DTs, which would be difficult for the Vikings to afford without a number of significant restructures and/or cuts.
Of course, he continues to hammer opposing quarterbacks over the final stanza of the season, it would be difficult for the Vikings to let him walk.
Defensive end, Everson Griffen
2019 contract status: $11.9 million cap hit
Prior to the 2017 season, the Vikings signed Griffen to an extension that left the door open for them to walk away if his play dropped off around age 30, as so many pass rushers have over the years. If the Vikings release him this offseason, they will only take on $1.2 million in cap hit.
Griffen dealt with a mental health issue earlier this year causing him to miss five games. The Vikings may view his drop in production as a product of a tumultuous year, but the reality is he’s rated 75th among edge rushers by PFF and has had three games without a single QB pressure since he returned.
Restructuring his deal makes the most sense unless the Vikings feel young pass rusher Stephen Weatherly is ready to take on the full-time role.
If Griffen returns to his dominant self over the final four games, they would not have much of a case for him to restructure and would have to keep him in place as their star defensive end for at least another year.
Wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell
2019 contract status: $3.1 million cap hit
The 2016 first-round pick has not taken the step forward that his team hoped in Year 3. Treadwell has 31 receptions on 47 targets and averages just 9.0 yards per catch. As a result, the Vikings have been lacking a No. 3 receiver behind Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. While they would only save around $600,000 by cutting him next year, they would open up a spot in the receiving corps that could be filled by a playmaker.
Trendy well hasn’t shown any flashes that would indicate he can be a consistent weapon and the final four games of this season might be his last chance to make a case that he belongs for another year.
Right guard, Mike Remmers
2019 contract status: $6.4 million cap hit
It’s hard to blame Remmers for his situation, but it’s clear that moving him from tackle to guard has not worked out. He’s allowed the third most pressures of any guard in the NFL this season and hasn’t succeeded in run blocking. Remmers is set to make $6.4 million next season with a dead cap hit of only $1.8 million.
The Vikings desperately need to draft a guard but they will have needs on both ides of the line unless they expect Nick Easton to return to full strength and take back the left guard position next year. That leaves the door open to Remmers staying if he shows progress at the position. At this point, that might be too much to ask for a player who was a lifetime tackle and belongs at that spot.